LISTEN, LISTEN by Kate Wilhelm


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Four disappointing novellas--with none of the eerie, genuinely discomforting effects which Wilhelm has achieved in such suspense/paranormal/sci-fi hybrids as Somerset Dreams (1978). Until its immortality-serum denouement, ""The Winter Beach"" is drearily close to straight romantic-suspense: a Defense Department creep blackmails writer/teacher Lyle Taney into helping him get the goods on 63-year-old Prof. Saul Werther, who's supposedly a drugs/spy villain of some sort (Lyle's bird research has made her Werther's Pacific Coast neighbor); but Lyle, falling for Saul's handsome young assistant, gradually realizes that Saul may be the Good Guy, protecting some earth-shaking scientific discovery from getting into the wrong hands. The other three pieces are more occultishly angled, two of them revolving around an elusive, enigmatically motivated witch-figure. In ""Julian,"" a twelve-year-old boy focuses his telescope on a nearby motel and sees an old withered woman transform herself into a beautiful girl by taking a shower; and this trauma warps his whole life. . . till he tracks the woman down, learns her extraterrestrial secret, and parlays it into his own career as a baptizing healer/revivalist. In ""With Thimbles, with Forks, and Hope,"" a retired cop and his wife try to prevent a suicide (as a favor to an insurance-agent) and wind up confronting an inhuman woman--perhaps one of a whole species--who thrives on death. (""We do not kill; we participate. It does no harm."") And murkiest of all is ""Moongate,"" in which a young woman and two men (one lover, one friend) see varied visions in an empty valley, debating each other's illusion/reality at length. Earnest, humorless, oddly bland work overall--with neither enough sharp imaginings to grip sf readers nor enough solid characterization to engage a more mainstream audience.

Pub Date: Nov. 19th, 1981
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin